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NAACP Removes President, Vows To Fight Harder Against Trump

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After three years in the position, NAACP President Cornell Brooks was voted out by the organization’s national board on Friday, as they pledge a “systemwide refresh” and “strategic re-envisioning” to best position the historic civil rights organization to “confront the realities of today’s volatile political, media and social climates.”

In a press release on Friday, the group announced that Brooks will remain at the organization until the end of his term on June 30th, and Board Chairman Leon W. Russell and Vice Chair Derrick Johnson will manage the organization on an interim basis until a new leader is named.

“Our organization has been at the forefront of America, making tremendous strides over the last hundred years,” Leon W. Russell, chairman of the Board of Directors, said. “However, modern day civil rights issues facing the NAACP, like education reform, voting rights and access to affordable health care, still persist and demand our continued action.”

 

“In the coming months, the NAACP will embark upon a historic national listening tour to ensure that we harness the energy and voices of our grassroots members, to help us achieve transformational change, and create an internal culture designed to push the needle forward on civil rights and social justice,” Derrick Johnson, vice-chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, said.

The NAACP Board said that everyone will have a place at the table, including its staff, the new movements for social change, local organizers helping to rebuild neighborhoods, the faith leaders and other traditional and historic African-Americans organizations that provide much needed services to their communities, social justice advocates tackling income inequality, the millions of marchers who have taken to streets for women rights and immigrant rights, the activists who are fighting for equality for the LGBTQ Americans, business leaders and philanthropists lending private sector support, and the long-time civil rights guardians who have spilled blood so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

The organization also announced that it will go on a listening tour for the first time in its history.

“As the organization reimagines ourselves, it is determined to be formed in the likeliness of the people whom it serves – and to do so, the Board will work to see, meet and listen to them,” the statement said.

“These changing times require us to be vigilant and agile, but we have never been more committed or ready for the challenges ahead. We know that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters expect a strong and resilient NAACP moving forward, as our organization has been in the past, and it remains our mission to ensure the advancement of communities of color in this country,” Russell said.

 

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Republicans already giving Trump's budget a cold shoulder

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President Trump's budget hasn't been released yet, but that's not stopping some of Capitol Hill's most important Republicans from giving it a cold shoulder.

Trump's blueprint for the 2018 budget year comes out Tuesday, and it's certain to include a wave of cuts to benefit programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, federal employee pensions and farm subsidies.

The fleshed-out proposal follows up on an unpopular partial release in March that targeted the budgets of domestic agencies and foreign aid for cuts averaging 10 percent -- and made lawmakers in both parties recoil.

The new cuts are unpopular as well.

"We think it's wrongheaded," said Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, when asked about looming cuts to farm programs. "Production agriculture is in the worst slump since the depression -- 50 percent drop in the net income for producers. They need this safety net," said Conaway, R-Texas.

Trump's budget plan promises to balance the federal ledger by the end of a 10-year window, even while exempting Social Security and Medicare retirement benefits from cuts. To achieve balance, the plan by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney relies on optimistic estimates of economic growth, and the surge in revenues that would result, while abandoning Trump's promise of a "massive tax cut."

Instead, the Trump tax plan promises an overhaul that would cut tax rates but rely on erasing tax breaks and economic growth to end up as "revenue neutral."

Mr. Trump is also targeting the Medicaid health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, and nursing home care to millions of older people who could not otherwise afford it.

The House had a bitter debate on health care before a razor-thin 217-213 passage in early May of a GOP health bill that included more than $800 billion in Medicaid cuts over the coming decade. Key Republicans are not interested in another round of cuts to the program.

According to a Washington Post report, Mr. Trump's budget would follow through on those proposed cuts in what the Congressional Budget Office estimated could off Medicaid benefits for about 10 million people over the next decade. 

"I would think that the health care bill is our best policy statement on Medicaid going forward," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the program.

Details on Mr. Trump's budget will not be publicly released until Tuesday, but Mulvaney has briefed Republicans about what's coming and his staff has provided targeted leaks to the media.

According to the Post's report, people familiar with the budget plan said the White House will also call for giving states more flexibility to impost work requirements for those in different anti-poverty programs. 

Mr. Trump's full budget submission to Congress is months overdue and follows the release two months ago of an outline for the discretionary portion of the budget, covering defense, education, foreign aid, housing, and environmental programs, among others. Their budgets pass each year through annual appropriations bills.

Mr. Trump's earlier blueprint proposed a $54 billion, 10 percent increase for the military above an existing cap on Pentagon spending, financed by an equal cut to non-defense programs. Those cuts rang alarm bells for many Republicans, who were particularly upset about proposals to eliminate community development block grants, slash medical research and eviscerate foreign aid.

Mr. Trump's GOP allies rejected such cuts when wrapping up long-overdue legislation for the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30. There's little sign they will have a change of heart now, especially with Trump's administration in turmoil and his poll ratings at historic lows.

"The budget's a starting point. We'll go to work from there," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Republicans controlling Congress have delayed action on their companion budget measure, waiting for Trump to go first. This year's budget debate, Republicans hope, would grease the way for a major overhaul of the loophole-cluttered tax system. But House conservatives also want to embark on a round of cuts to benefit programs and are open to Trump's suggestions for cuts to mandatory programs such as federal employee pensions.

Presidential budgets are mere suggestions, and the White House has discretion to assume higher economic growth rates of up to 3 percent or so under Trump's agenda of tax changes, loosened regulations and infrastructure spending.

Tuesday's budget will also include proposals such as paid leave for parents after the birth or adoption of a child, a $200 billion infrastructure plan that Trump officials claim could leverage, along with private investment, up to $1 trillion in construction projects, and funding for Trump's oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

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‘Know who you are rolling with,’ VSU graduates are told

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Deron Bennett gets hooded by Octavia Bryson during Virginia State University’s commencement Saturday at the VSU Multi-Purpose Center.

Virginia State University graduates were told in no uncertain terms during commencement last Saturday to “Get Out.”

These words came from a fired up Jeff Johnson, a media and messaging strategist who delivered the keynote address at the ceremony held in the university’s Multi-Purpose Center.

VSU valedictorian Stacey Elder

VSU valedictorian Stacey Elder

Mr. Johnson, the managing principal of the Baltimore-based strategy firm JIJ Communications, referenced the blockbuster film of the same name by writer-producer-director Jordan Peele several times during his speech to drive home the necessity of African-Americans to succeed without selling out.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen more content on the small and big screens produced by those who look like us,” Mr. Johnson told the graduates and their families.

The communications expert then singled out the film not only for its financial and critical success but for having a message relevant for African-American graduates about to enter the workforce.

“As you go out into the world, know who you are rolling with,” he told the audience. “Chris didn’t know who he was rolling with,” he said about the film’s main character, an African-American who had a white girlfriend whose parents were wealthy.

He went on to explain that Chris couldn’t identify with his girlfriend’s values, cultural background and, more importantly, family history.

“Who you talk to, hang with and be around have a lot to do with your success,” he said. “Are you aware that there is a system set up to use your mind, body and talent without your control over it?”

He then encouraged the graduates to take time to identify their true value, to master their craft and gifts and to seek a mentor so they won’t fall under the temptation of selling out for a paycheck.

“I like money,” Mr. Johnson said as the audience laughed. “I get excited every time the check clears. But you don’t have to sell your soul to get it.”

Mr. Johnson did not hold back in citing companies and institutions that he said he considers to be sellouts.

“I’ve been on BET and I watched them do it (sellout),” he said of the Black Entertainment Network that was co-founded by Sheila Johnson and her former husband, Robert Johnson, but sold for $3 billion in 2001 to the media conglomerate Viacom.

“I’ve seen people turn their backs for six figures,” Mr. Johnson told the crowd.

He was equally frank in his criticism of Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. The historically black institution invited U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to be their commencement speaker last week despite petitions signed by hundreds of students, alumni and supporters of the college urging the university’s administration to rescind the invitation.

Earlier this year, Mrs. DeVos, who was appointed to the cabinet post by President Trump, called HBCUs “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” failing to realize and acknowledge that most of the colleges were the only option for African-American students because of segregation.

During her commencement address May 10, Mrs. DeVos was interrupted by persistent boos from the crowd, while about half the graduates stood and turned their backs on her. Bethune-Cookman’s president, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, was widely criticized by students, their family and alumni, for inviting Mrs. DeVos on such an important occasion.

“You don’t stand for a legacy when you invite folk who don’t believe what you believe or support you,” Mr. Johnson told the VSU graduates and their families.

He ended his address with gentle words of hope and a charge to the graduates to pay back the blessings they have received thus far.

“It is my hope that you will be the freest human beings — whether black, Hispanic, Asian or white. Get out, but go back in and build up.”

With 624 degrees conferred on Saturday, VSU officials elected to have a morning and afternoon ceremony to accommodate the graduates, their families and friends in the new facility. Mr. Johnson performed double duty, offering the keynote address at both.

VSU also recognized two outstanding students — valedictorian Stacey Elder of Richmond, who had a perfect 4.0 GPA in earning a bachelor of science degree in management, and Aicha Camara who was this year’s winner of the annual Reginald F. Lewis Prize that is awarded to a senior in the VSU College of Business. Ms. Camara was presented with a plaque and a check for $1,000.

Retired Lt. Col. Darryl W. Sharp Sr. received the Virginia State University Alumnus of the Year Award.

“We are proud to call you grads, scholars and Trojans,” VSU President Dr. Makola M. Abdullah told the graduating class. “In the words of The Temptations, ‘Get ready ’cause here they come!’ ”

 

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Black voters say they’re already losing under Trump

John Austin, 70, retired from the military and the postal service, seen in Richmond, Va., blasted the president's photo-ops. "What's the results? There's no results."

John Austin, 70, retired from the military and the postal service, seen in Richmond, Va., blasted the president's photo-ops. "What's the results? There's no results."

Conversations with Virginian voters help explain that dreadful 12-per-cent approval rating with a community he pledged to make a priority.

A struggling post-industrial town. A Christian factory worker praying “constantly” for Donald Trump. Ernarda Davis, 65, is the kind of person Trump vowed to help, living in the kind of place Trump vowed to heal, and she wants badly for her president to succeed.

You’ve heard this kind of story before. Except people who look like Davis don’t usually qualify for 2017 articles about how voters are feeling about Trump.

She is black.

And when she was asked in Petersburg, Va., last weekend how Trump is doing so far, she curved her fingers into a rigid circle.

Zero.

“He needs to get hate out of his heart and open his eyes. And that might help,” she said. “Get hate out of his heart, open his eyes, and see what’s going on.”

The U.S. media narrative of the past year has been dominated by accounts of white Trump voters standing by their man no matter what they hear on the news. Their unyielding loyalty is important. But also noteworthy is Trump’s inability to earn even the fleeting honeymoon support of just about anyone who didn’t vote for him.

No group is so fiercely opposed to Trump as African Americans, a group he had promised to make a top priority.

In a campaign speech last August, Trump offered a “guarantee”: he would so impress black people that he would get 95 per cent of their votes in 2020. In a poll this month, his approval rating among black people was 12 per cent.

Corey Young, 26, an accountant in Petersburg, criticized the attempt to repeal Obamacare. "If you don't have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?"

Corey Young, 26, an accountant in Petersburg, criticized the attempt to repeal Obamacare. "If you don't have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?"  (TORONTO STAR)  

Such loathing is far from inevitable, even for a Republican. George W. Bush got just 9 per cent of the black vote in 2000, similar to Trump’s 8 per cent. By this point in his first term, though, Bush’s black approval rating had spiked to the high 30s.

As the chief promoter of a racist conspiracy about the citizenship of the first black president, Trump assumed the presidency in January with black communities predisposed to dislike him. But in 25 interviews in the majority-black Virginia cities of Petersburg and Richmond, black voters said they were specifically dismayed with actions he has taken since his inauguration.

Some of their complaints were about his general behaviour: his lying, his rage, his incoherence, his cronyism. But there was also broad unhappiness with his handling of particular policy issues important to many black people — and a widespread perception that he has shown he does not care at all about a community he insisted he would “take care of.”

At campaign rally after campaign rally, Trump asked black voters a provocative question: “What the hell do you have to lose?” In Petersburg and Richmond, voters said they are already losing, Trump’s promised “New Deal for Black America” replaced by the raw deal they knew was coming.

“He’s done more to divide. I don’t think he’s for any non-Caucasian people,” said Angela Taylor, 46, a risk manager having a Mother’s Day meal at a popular black restaurant in Richmond, the state capital. “I think he’s just totally against ‘coloureds.’ ”

Black voters in Petersburg expressed strong displeasure with Trump’s widely criticized plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, a law that cut the uninsured rate among black people in half.

A Sunday afternoon on a main street in Petersburg, Va., a struggling majority-black city south of Richmond.

A Sunday afternoon on a main street in Petersburg, Va., a struggling majority-black city south of Richmond.  (TORONTO STAR)  

“I don’t like how he’s cancelling a lot of things without, really, a plan in store. You might not like it, but if you don’t have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?” said accountant Corey Young, 26, outside the dollar store that was one of the busiest businesses in Petersburg on a sunny weekend afternoon. “I don’t think he’s rational with his decisions. It’s pretty obvious. He’s just a wild guy. Loose cannon, man.”

Some black voters suspected that Trump’s health-care overhaul is motivated more by a desire to erase Obama’s legacy than to improve Americans’ health. And they took issue, more broadly, with his unceasing stream of disparaging words toward Obama.

“I have a problem with him always saying he has to clean up a mess from the past president,” said Sharon Jones, 52, outside the Richmond restaurant. “Once you become a leader you inherit, you just take over whatever’s there, and not throw other people under the bus.”

Petersburg, a historic 32,000-person city once home to major tobacco plants, has been plagued by poverty, crime and a dysfunctional local government. There was intense concern there about the early activities of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a former hard-right Alabama senator who was once denied a federal judgeship over accounts of anti-black racism.

In a rapid-fire series of announcements, Sessions has told federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible sentences for drug crimes, pulled the federal government back from pressuring cities to reform police forces found to be violating citizens’ constitutional rights, and ordered a review of the reform agreements signed by the Obama administration.

“It’s almost like they’re blinded as it relates to various things that happen in the community involving law enforcement and minorities,” said Rodney Williams, 52, a small-business owner and former deputy sheriff who sits on the chamber of commerce in Petersburg. “That is an issue. For them to say it’s not an issue, it’s like: you are totally ignoring their pain.”

“Just like when Reagan was in office. Low-level offences. It don’t make no sense, and it’s carrying on to this day,” said Frank Lightfoot, 58, a former offender who is now a Richmond college student. “Donald Trump’s doing this country a great injustice. He’s doing a bad job. And I think eventually he’s going to get impeached.”

Trump’s 10-point “new deal” mostly consisted of his general policy platform. But it held out the promise of new infrastructure investment in black communities. Trump has not yet got around to infrastructure, choosing instead to focus on Obamacare and tax reform. In its place, he has issued a 2018 budget proposal that includes a $6-billion cut to Housing and Urban Development.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in an interview that the “skinny budget, if adopted, would have a devastating effect on black communities.”

“He’s cutting anything urban — anything that’s helping the urban community,” said Keyonna Wright, 34, who works in nursing. “I just feel like it’s no acknowledgment as far as the urban community. Talking as an African American, I don’t feel like we’re going to progress any.”

Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of a dollar store in Petersburg, Va., noted the lack of black cabinet appointees. "Trump is not even trying."

Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of a dollar store in Petersburg, Va., noted the lack of black cabinet appointees. "Trump is not even trying."  (TORONTO STAR)  

Black voters saw another troubling signal in Trump’s choice of appointees. Unlike Bush, who picked Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice for top posts, Trump gave only one black person a position of prominence: housing secretary Ben Carson, a black icon as a neurosurgeon who has alienated much of the community with his right-wing political views.

“He doesn’t know anything about the black community, and he’s black,” said Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of the Petersburg dollar store, with a half-smile. “Trump is not even trying.”

Trump managed to insult black voters even with his photo-ops. In February, he held an Oval Office meeting with the leaders of historically black colleges, earning cautious praise from some black leaders. This month, though, he signalled that he might end a program that helps such colleges pay for construction projects. Though he backtracked quickly, the damage was done, again.

“I think he can fool the public by showing a picture with African Americans in it. What’s the results? There’s no results,” said John Austin, 70, a retiree from the army and postal service, in Richmond. “I can take a million pictures if I don’t get any results.”

Four of the 25 people interviewed said they had no complaints about Trump. Randy Marriott, a former Toronto Argonauts wide receiver now in Petersburg, said he is still making the same money under Trump as he did under Obama.

Several others brushed off questions about Trump’s treatment of black people — not because they think Trump is doing a good job but because they think he poses a broader danger. In the view of Steven Lipscomb, a 30-year-old DJ who works at Sam’s Club to pay the bills, Trump’s self-obsession has him failing “not only African Americans but everyone in general.”

“I’m hoping he does OK,” he said, “just for the sake of the country, for everyone’s sake. I want to hope for the best. I just don’t feel like he’s doing anything for anyone.”

 

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Ex-FBI Chief Comey To Testify To Senate Panel In Public Session

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Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump last week amid an agency probe into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has agreed to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee at a public hearing, the committee said in a statement on Friday.

The hearing will be scheduled after the May 29 Memorial Day holiday, the statement said. 

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